Monday, July 21, 2008

Deconstructing Liz

Periodically I go on a safari for treasures in thrift shops--with the hunt itself more valued than the prey. My favorite thing to stalk is sweaters--always with the thought of recycling the yarn or felting the item into a bag.

In Portland, Oregon, there are myriads of knitters, designers, recyclers, upcyclers, and entrepreneurs; there is consequently a shortage of good wool sweaters in the thrift stores. I suspect that someone is pulling 90% of donated wool sweaters at the rag mill level and so they are not making it into the thrift stores. Either that or some folks are getting up very early and hunting daily.

A sweater is a good candidate for recycling if it has a nice natural fiber with no pilling and it looks easy to unravel; however, these same sweaters are sometimes so nice that I decide to clean them up and wear them instead of recycling them. Shame to unravel them when they look so nice knitted up already.

A few years ago, while looking for some wool sweaters to recycle, and finding nothing of interest, I started eyeing all the cotton ones. Whole flocks of cotton sweaters can be found lounging around these wool-deprived places. In the herd was a Liz Claiborne pullover of lovely cotton in vibrant colors.

This sweater got me wondering if anyone was recycling cotton for re-knitting. After an Internet search yielded no information, I decided to experiment.

It's almost a meditative state that comes over me when starting the deconstruction of a sweater. I search first for just the right thread to pull to undo the chain-stitched seams, and then pull a thread across the top of the chest/back and under the neckline on the large pieces. In the ritual, the front and back always get unravelled before the sleeves. Here are the deconstructed stripes and a photo of the leftovers.

Since the sleeves were short, I didn't bother with unravelling them. Also, I found the sweater's cousin on a subsequent safari so there was plenty of fiber without the sleeves. The final photos are of the cousin before and after deconstruction.

In my next post I'll write about the process of reclaiming this yarn.

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